Most of us find ourselves hopping on the extreme parenting locomotive, and that train is just not slowing down. Birthday parties with handmade goodie bags, play dates, volunteering, sports, school carnivals, doctors appointments, email, voicemail, text messages, activities, more activities, more more more…it just goes on and on. We get caught up in the pressurized societal vortex which makes parenting much harder than it should be.
We talked to a child psychologist about the extreme parenting phenomenon. This was his response:
“Parents want to give their kids an edge by putting them in all these activities. What they don’t seem to realize is that the best edge they can give them is gained by sitting down with them at the dinner table, just being with them, just hanging out as a family. Kids who are truly secure in themselves have the real edge. Ultimately that’s what’s going to make them a success.”
We all want what’s best for our kids. But perhaps, before we sign up for more work, we should make sure that the return on an activity is worth the blood, sweat, and tears of our investment. The three of us now apply the following common sense test (whether it is planning a birthday party, adding another activity, or agreeing to participate in the school bake sale):
A. Is this really going to benefit my child, me, or my marriage? (If the answer is no, we say no. If the answer is yes, we move on to question B.)
B. If I do this will I complain about it later? (If the answer is yes, we don’t do it. If the answer is no, we go to question C.)
C. Is there a less painful way to make it happen? (For example, buy, don’t bake cookies for the school; trade off driving responsibilities with another Mom, etc.)
Or, as Pam put it, “You have to be strong enough to set priorities in life—just say no.”
Family time is where it’s at. We can give our kids every bit of a designer lifestyle, but most of them are more interested in just being with us. Think back to your own childhood. What did you care more about? Getting the Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas, or reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with your parents? OK, you wanted the ugly doll. But what do you remember now, as an adult? It’s the vague “we made cookies and went to Aunt Betty’s and had a big dinner” memories you treasure. Those are the experiences that gave you the security and warm inner glow you needed to grow up into the fine human being you are today. Spanish lessons are great, but the time you spend together doing a thousand inconsequential things is what culminates in a meaningful childhood for your kids.
Mothers For a Saner Life!
Let’s start a “Mother’s for a Saner Life” movement and lighten up. Society is putting on the pressure to make us think we have to live a certain way. But each of us is a member of society; so we have the power to change those expectations.
A Sticker and a Fruit Snack
Birthday parties are wonderful and important. There’s nothing better than celebrating the day our darling children arrived in our lives, and the fact that we’ve all survived another year. But things have gotten out of hand. (I”m still recovering from that Nemo bash I put on a few years ago.) If the kid can’t remember it, or is likely to sleep through it, they might not be old enough for a party. Get a cake, take a few cute pictures, and consider your job done. And for any age child, when you do have a party, as our friend Theresa said, “The contents of a goodie bag should be a sticker and a fruit snack. Those moms who put lip gloss in them are Satan. My six-year-old got it all over our couch.”
A Playdate Is Not an Open House
One of us actually went to a playdate with our two-year-old where the hostess mother had filled the house with fresh flowers and made a point of saying she’d done so just for the play date. We didn’t want to buy her house, we just wanted to hang out in it for a couple of hours! Why do we feel compelled to go into Open House Overdrive whenever we have friends over? Let’s stop cleaning up before playdates and presenting show-palace perfection for our dinner parties. Why not let our friends see that our lives (and houses) are just as chaotic and messy as theirs? Our friend Leslie wishes things could be more casual, “Like when we were in college and people would think it was cool that you had a couch—not whether your pillows were custom-made to coordinate with the love seat.” Yeah, those were the days, and we miss them.
Pick An Activity (or Two) and Call It a Day
One activity per child = approximately $200, 5-7 emails per week, 3-4 text messages to arrange carpool logistics per week, 2-4 car trips per week, 1-2 trips to the local sporting goods store, at least 1 snack duty requirement, and bored siblings playing video games on the sidelines. And as your kid gets older the requirements only go up. For example, in baseball, by the time they are eight, they are practicing 2 times a week to prepare for 2 games a week. Multiply all that out times two, three and four + kids, then you have an expensive logistical nightmare on your hands and zero time left to spend with your family.
Let’s all try to get off that extreme parenting locomotive long enough to enjoy what is in front of us. Before you know it, our kids will be filling out those college applications or getting their first jobs. Help us spread the word!